I hadn’t ever considered myself a sexually dominant woman—in fact, I’ve preferred that other people tell me what to do in addition to doing things to me. When I befriended Wild Side Sex author and legendary sex and kink educator Midori, she encouraged me to attend ForteFemme, her female dominance weekend intensive in San Francisco.
I decided to go for my own professional growth as a sex educator, since I knew I wasn’t Toppy McTopperson in my personal life. Instead, I ended up having several personal “a-ha” moments, and learned about an entirely new framework for thinking about my desire. I even unlocked a realm within my own personal growth in trauma recovery.
What does being dominant in bed actually mean?
In film and porn, we are mostly shown dominant sadist “tops” and submissive masochist “bottoms,” but there is so much territory to explore in intimate exchanges beyond this oft-gendered binary.
So, while dominance solely concerns the desire to have control—it is entirely possible to desire control while wanting to receive the sensation, or want to give the sensation while having someone else control what you do. You can also have a neutral desire for control while wanting to give or receive sensation, and vice versa. If you’re entirely neutral on both fronts, well, that’s what we call vanilla sex! And even though “vanilla” is often said with condescension, the kinkiest folks can have a vanilla appetite from time to time.
How to tell if your submissive partner is enjoying themselves
I threw my neck out the morning the workshop began, and my pain brain was getting the best of me. It made physical movement difficult, but emotional feels very accessible to me.
Right off the bat, Midori told us to come up with our own physical arousal symptoms that another person would be able to identify. After all, some of us laugh when we are uncomfortable and cry when we are happy, so knowing how a person reacts when they are turned on is a vital cue to know if you’re pleasing them as a dom beyond what words can communicate.
Watch: Barbie Ferreira's Guide to Sending Nudes
The exercise was difficult for all of us, but made a very clear point—our bodies do a lot of talking! In our dialogues about consent, we emphasize the “words” portion of consent without talking about the more subtle cues of body language. I realized that I didn’t even know what my partner’s symptoms would be—even an erection doesn’t necessarily mean someone’s aroused, after all!
How to figure out your own sexual appetite
Midori asked us to think about our childhood play as a tool to inform what our adult sexual appetites are. It took me a moment to search through my muted childhood memories, but I suddenly recalled how I always loved to throw birthday parties for a favorite stuffed animal. “You just want attention and adoration!” a fellow student called out.
And right she was. I was amused that I struggled to identify this even though it was so obvious to someone else. Other students expressed fantasies about taking care of others, or controlling groups of people, which we all enjoyed translating into potential play scenes they could explore.
My mind was blown by how succinctly Midori was able to communicate the basic alignments within kinky sexual desire—and help us find the words to express where our appetites lie at any given point in time (because yes, they do change!).
How your body and posture affects sexuality
“Men with a chip on their shoulder walk like this,” Midori exclaimed, barging around aggressively with her chest forward. Years of using the NYC subway truly taught me how men are socialized to take up space, while women are expected to passively flow and exist around the remaining space. Midori quite literally expressed how our bodies affect everything from our self esteem to our ability to interact with one another. In pairs, we practiced what Midori called the Queen’s Walk, using the energy from our hips to propel us forward.
At first I found this ridiculous and a bit too literal, but then realized I actually had a lot of work to do. I am often loud and over the top, but my body? That feels like a pretty inaccessible space to me at times. My body, and the femme body in society, is a sexual object to many. It’s an object for others to gaze upon in ways we don’t even comprehend because it is what we have always known. This intensive was beginning to undo that feeling, for me.
How to share dominant and submissive desires with your partner
My boyfriend journeyed to San Francisco with me because I knew I was going to need my support person there with me for the final partner lab time. While the entire weekend was about my personal development, Midori wanted us to have a chance to take our new skills for a test drive. Those of us without partners there were given a “demo bottom” to practice negotiation with. But by the time the class drew to a close, I found myself both mentally and physically drained (and not just because I was wearing a neck brace).
As we lay flopped on a bed, I attempted to ask my boyfriend all the questions I had for him swirling around in my head. What were his childhood fantasies? Could I figure out what his sexual alignment was from this conversation alone like the sexual spy Midori had trained us all to be? My boyfriend didn’t offer much insight into his appetite, but said something much more poignant. “I’ve just been wanting to know that you want me.”
I let that sink in. I was trying to rush into concocting some sort of play scene with him, when in reality he was just needing security.
The ForteFemme women gathered after our lab time to reconvene and wrap up. Others had found insight into the aftercare their partner needed. Another negotiated being sat upon by a gorgeous women who was her “demo-bottom.” When I spoke, I was already crying, and just thankful to have identified that I needed to evaluate the way I was interacting with my boyfriend on the most fundamental level. Through my sexual and emotional traumas, I have struggled to meld emotional and physical intimacy together, and having both with him is scary. The biggest takeaway for me from ForteFemme was so small, yet something crucial to my healing, self-esteem, and partnership.
At the end of the session, I realized ForteFemme wasn’t about cosplaying a domme that wasn’t inside of me, it was about getting to the core of my being; the woman who has been bulldozed into submission by rigid gender roles, and is ready to have her body back.
This article originally appeared on VICE US.